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Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood Dreams
After making only 29 films, Marilyn Monroe became the personification of Hollywood glamour and Hollywood dreams, and she had a unique, magical quality in front of the camera quite unlike any other performer.
She appeared to exude sexuality whilst retaining a vulnerable waif-like quality and an innocence which endeared her to millions of moviegoers.
Her emotional life was in tatters, she became an increasing nightmare for directors and fellow actors, recklessly spoiled and unsure, but she became a dominant force in Hollywood and was indisputably the most famous woman of the 20th century. Marilyn Monroe is still a legend today.
Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles. Her father's address was listed as unknown and she would never learn his identity.
Her mother Gladys had been a film cutter at RKO studios, but she had depressive tendencies and whilst Norma Jeane was still very young she was committed to a mental institution. Norma lived the first 11 years of her life in foster homes and orphanages. Her first stable home life was in the home of Grace McKee, a close friend of her mother.
When in September 1941 Norma Jeane met Jim Dougherty, at 21, 5 years her senior, Grace set in motion plans for them to get married as she and her husband were set to move to the East coast and couldn't afford to take 16-year-old Norma Jeane with them.
She and Dougherty were wed on June 19, 1942 and appeared to be conventionally
happy but within 2 years Dougherty had joined the Merchant Marines and in 1944 he was sent to the South Pacific. Norma was left alone, but not for long. Her life was about to take its first dramatic change.
Hollywood's Golden Age
After Jim left, Norma Jeane took a job on an assembly line inspecting parachutes and she was photographed by the Army as a promotion to show women at work contributing to the war effort. One of the photographers, David Conover, asked to take further pictures of her. It was her springboard to modelling stardom. By early 1945, she was becoming well known as a reputable model and had appeared on the cover of over 30 national magazines.
She began to have thoughts of an acting career. She enrolled in acting classes and began to study the work of established stars such as Jean Harlow, who became her idol, and Lana Turner.
When Jim returned in 1946 Marilyn filed for divorce. She said of her first marriage,"We had nothing to say. I was dying of boredom." She had already been approached by Ben Lyon, at the time a talent scout for Twentieth Century-Fox who had arranged a screen test for her.
Soon after her divorce, in July, 1946 she was offered a standard six-month contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios on a salary of $125 a week. To mark the momentous change in her life she dyed her hair blonde and changed her name, selecting her mother's family name of Monroe. The actress Marilyn Monroe was born.
Early Marilyn Video Clips
Marilyn Resource Sites
- Marilyn Monroe Biography on Hollywood's Golden Age
All about the wonderful Marilyn Monroe
Early Film Career
For the first few years of her new career Marilyn played minor roles in a series of B movies. Then in 1950, she was given a serious acting role in John Huston's thriller The Asphalt Jungle (see picture, right) for which she got excellent reviews. Later that year, Marilyn's star rose higher after her performance as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve (starring Bette Davis) earned her further praise. "Clash By Night" in 1952 also earned her favorable comments. The young, ambitious actress was beginning to get noticed.
Her first leading part in a serious feature was to be in "Don't Bother to Knock", also filmed in 1952. In the following year she appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as Lorelei Lee. She was becoming a box-office draw. She immediately began filming "Niagara" with Joseph Cotten - a film that was to firmly establish her reputation as a star.
She was also starting to make it big in the gossip colums. She had begun dating one of the all time greats of baseball, Joe DiMaggio. Neither her life, nor that of Joe himself, would ever be the same.
Marilyn Sings "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" - From the movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)
In early 1952 Joe diMaggio had just retired from baseball. Marilyn was 25 and he 12 years older but the two had an instant rapport. Marilyn like the change from the showbiz lotharios she had been dealing with: "I met this reserved guy who didn't make a pass at me right away! He treated me like something special."
Their wedding in January, 1954, was a public relations coup. During their Tokyo honeymoon, Marilyn made a personal visit to perform for 60,000 servicemen stationed in Korea. Her presence caused a sensation. The troops loved her but DiMaggiio, a jealous and insecure man, was clearly unable to come to terms with the sexual chemistry between Marilyn and her fans. It was a sign of things to come. In October 1954 Marilyn and Joe separated, later to divorce.
Another sign of things to come came in 1954 when Fox suspended Marilyn for failure to appear on the set of "Pink Tights". The studio suspended her again the following year for not reporting for work on 'How To Be Very Popular'. In each case the roles went to others. It was the start of Marilyn's reputation for unreliability and it was going to get worse.
In May Marilyn began filming "There's No Business Like Show Business". For the first time, she was showing serious side-effects of the many sleeping pills she had been taking for the last few years, often sleepy and lethargic and prone to fits of tears.
In 1955, she appeared in one film only, The Seven Year Itch, which contained the memorable scene when her white dress blows up over a subway grate. Her work output was slowing down and due to her health problems, her lateness and general uncooperativeness on set, her reputation within the industry was going down fast.
In early 1955 Marilyn left Hollywood to settle in New York. She wanted to be regarded as a serious actress and joined the Actors Studio to study under drama coach Lee Strasberg. Strasberg introduced her to playright Arthur Miller and they began an affair.
To Marilyn, Miller represented the serious theatre to which she was aspiring. Miller, Jewish, intellectual and married, was attracted to her unconventionality and originality. Nominally raised as a Christian, she converted to Judaism to facilitate marriage and after Miller obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada, he and Marilyn were married on June 29, 1956. It was an attraction of opposites but the attraction would very soon wear off and they would find nothing to replace it..
Marilyn had returned to Hollywood in February 1956, after over a years absence, to film "Bus Stop". After their June wedding, she and Arthur departed for London so that Marilyn could start production on "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Lawrence Olivier.
Marilyn Monroe did not return to Hollywood until 1958 to make "Some Like It Hot" with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Her health and mental stability continued to deteriorate due to her increased dependency on drugs and her involvement in a marriage which, predictably, was turning out to be anything but happy. She often came to the set late and was unable to remember her lines. Director, Billy Wilder later said..." it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did." Some Like It Hot is an absolutely classic comedy, and consistently rated as one of the best movies ever made. Monroe's performance earned her a Golden Globe for best actress in musical or comedy.
Her next film "Let's Make Love" was noteworthy only for the publicity over her brief affair with co-star Yves Montand.
Early in their marriage, Arthur had adapted the part of Roslyn Taber in his short story The Misfits especially for Marilyn. The movie was eventually made in 1961 and co-starred Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift with Marilyn. While on location Marilyn and Arthur were rarely on speaking terms and lived apart. They were divorced in January of 1961, the same month that "The Misfits" was released. And so another unhappy marriage ended. Marilyn's social diary was still busy however.
During the last year of her life Marilyn was reportedly seeing both President John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert, the Attorney General, as well as renewing her friendship with her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, even setting a wedding date in August 1962 to remarry him.
At JFK's gala birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, Marilyn sang her now famous "Happy Birthday" tribute to him.
On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead, lying nude on her bed, face down, with a telephone in one hand, in her Brentwood, California home. Empty bottles of prescription pills were scattered around. Her mysterious death has aroused much speculation and conspiracy theories abound, particularly given her connection with the Kennedys.The official cause was an overdose of barbiturates, although the truth will likely never be revealed and there is strong suspicion of suicide.
Marilyn Monroe and her life story have become part of Hollywood folklore and it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from legend.
It is undeniable that she was considerably more than a mere alluring beauty, (although her allure is undeniable).
She was certainly a clever and underrated actress and comedienne. Some of her comedic performances are critically acclaimed. Her apparent vulnerability and innocence, intertwined with an innate sensuality and overt sexuality, has endeared her to a mass consciousness. Love her or hate her, we still cannot ignore her. Nor do we want to.